The Baby is not your average parenthood novel. Viva, a.k.a. Viva Superstar—actor, writer, painter, denizen of Andy Warhol’s world-famous Factory, and early pioneer in video arts—weaves a tale of childbirth and motherhood with often-shocking candor, exploring a new mother’s mixed emotions and her internal and external conflicts. Based on filmed records created by Viva’s husband, Michael Auder, of their daughter’s difficult birth and early development, and interspersed with stills from their life, Viva’s addictive video novel tells the story of a fictional couple, Augustine and Frederick Marat, whose unorthodox parenting takes them from New York to Paris to Casablanca to California.
In her own unique style, Viva explores breast-feeding and breast pumps, infidelity and incest while offering startlingly intimate details of a family’s singular lifestyle. An unabashedly autobiographical literary invention, alternately outrageous and honest, revelatory and touching, The Baby is truly one of a kind.
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About the Author
Viva is the author of two books: Superstar, an insider’s look at the Factory, and The Baby, a novel incorporating video art. She also wrote for and edited a variety of publications, including Vanity Fair and the Village Voice. She is the mother of two children and lives in Palm Springs, California, where she paints.
Read an Excerpt
A Video Novel
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Viva Auder
All rights reserved.
Thim and Thur One
... "didn't you ever hear that story?" mother asked me when the baby was a year old and I was still complaining of exhaustion. "No," I told her, "what was it about?"
"On the feast of the Holy Family," she began, "Mr. and Mrs. Murphy took their nine children to mass. All through the sermon the children were fighting and talking and fidgeting. The parents, sitting in a pew behind their children, kept poking them and nudging them and whispering 'shhh,' while the priest gave them dirty looks between sentences. After the mass was over, Mrs. Murphy's neighbor, Mrs. Reilly, came up to Mrs. Murphy on the churchsteps and said, 'Wasn't that a lovely sermon that father Shanahan gave, about the Holy Family?'"
"Hmmmmph," Mrs. Murphy sneered, "thim and thur ONE!"
"Tu est très belle!" Marie-Claude cried, hoarsely, because she had the flu. "Your breasts look fantastic! You've got to 'ave the baby!" Then she sneezed just as she was reaching for the Kleenex on her bedside table, sending a spray of fine moisture through the air; some of it landed on my plump, sore breasts half-exposed under a wraparound cotton dress. I was taking advantage of finally being able to wear a décolleté neckline.
Abortion had just become legal and I was going to get mine the next day. I had severe doubts about it, but Frederick and I were completely broke and everyone knows it's foolish to have a baby when you don't have any money. It was a "bad time" for movies (that's what everyone says when you complain about not having a job or a producer) and my husband was a filmmaker. Compounding his frustration was the fact that he had just spent six months making a film called Cleopatra but when the backers saw the rushes they confiscated the film and sued him for a million dollars. He was not only "mocking history" they said, by having Cleopatra consult an oracle at a court orgy, but his humor was "too sophisticated" for a "modern audience."
Frederick's occasional producer, Gunter von Habsburg, was nodding over his guitar, playing it with that air of cool self-possession endemic to either the very talented or the very rich. In Gunter's case it was the latter virtue that was responsible for his confidence.
Gunter comes from a German family who, unlike the rest of their compatriots, realized early in the thirties that not only was Berlin no longer the artistic center it had been ten years before, but that Hitler was about to plunge the country into ruin as well, and had, before the Second World War, established a beachhead in America. No dummies, they went straight to Florida, where they immediately discovered several oil wells before launching an attack, a generation later, on both the intellectual life of the local community and the artistic life of the nation at large. They built a university in Miami and an art collection in New York.
Gunter, at twenty-nine years of age, was following his parents' footsteps into the avant-garde. This position necessitated an appearance, at least, of being hip—a condition that caused his vast wealth to appear to him as more a burden than a blessing. His friends were all brilliant but poor, a category he himself would have liked to belong to. But, alas, it was too late for a von Habsburg to play Horatio Alger.
If Gunter had stuck to the rich for his social, intellectual, and sexual intercourse a lot of his paranoia would never have surfaced, but as it was he found himself judging every friendship he had in terms of: "How much money will I have to give him or her?" For the very wealthy have to give money to their less fortunate friends just as they have to give to charity; the trick is finding just the right amount to give without losing the secrecy that surrounds wealth. Too much, and the recipients will get a glimmering of just how vast the fortune is; too little, and they will harbor resentment. The lessons of the French Revolution weren't lost on the von Habsburgs; in fact, the architecture of their houses recalled that of the Renaissance in Italy; stark and dull on the outside, to confound the peasants, sumptuous on the inside. It's only the nouveau riche who make the same mistake that caused the downfall of Louis the Sixteenth: ostentation.
Frederick and I were in East Hampton in a house patterned after Le Petit Trianon, which Gunter had rented for us, his cameraman, himself, and his latest girlfriend, Marie-Claude, a very pretty French actress. The four of them were passing the white powder around again. I nodded my head when Frederick passed the piece of cardboard to me. He then handed me the rolled-up dollar bill and I sniffed as much as I could up both nostrils. Two full lines. I had already had some cocaine. I was feeling miserable because Marie-Claude was right. I did look beautiful, for I was three months pregnant and as much as I disliked the idea of being pregnant I disliked even more the idea of losing my newfound beauty.
For the first time I got high on the white powder. I hated it. I lay down and the room spun around; I couldn't walk without weaving and stumbling. I had no control. Frederick got into bed with me and put his arms around me. His beard pricked my chin because he hadn't shaved in two days; the pregnancy problem was just as disturbing to him as it was to me. When I went to the hospital to make my abortion appointment, the first thing I saw was a photograph of a three-month fetus in an open book on the doctor's desk. The location of the heart, brain, eyes, fingers, and toes were pointed out. Later, on the examining table he took my hand and placed it just above my pelvic bone saying, "There, feel the head?" I burst into tears and was still sobbing when, five minutes later, the telephone rang. It was Frederick, asking the doctor when I could join him for dinner in The Russian Tea Room. The doctor carried on a whispered conversation with him, hung up, went to a cabinet and took out a bottle. Coming toward me with two big white pills on his open palm he said, "Here's two tranquillizers; you take one, and give your husband the other." That night, just as this night, we couldn't make up our minds.
I come from such a large family that throughout my childhood and adolescence my mother was always pregnant. This was taken as a matter of course in our neighborhood (everyone was Irish Catholic). A pregnant woman was regarded in the same light as a feudal queen (provided she was married); that is to say, her position in the sphere of things was due to Divine Right, and no one, least of all the woman herself, would have thought of questioning it.
On the block where we lived if a woman didn't have at least six children the family was considered "small." Some of my mother's friends were practically martyrs to reproduction, their wounds rivaling those of St. Sebastian, St. Agatha, or, in the case of Mrs. Ryan, Job himself.
Out of Mrs. Ryan's brood of fourteen only five or six were to survive, and Mrs. Ryan herself was usually in bed with hemorrhages, a prolapsed uterus, an infected bladder, rotting kidneys, or a mental collapse. Since she usually enjoyed her mystical visions of the bleeding heart of Jesus during her various illnesses, it never occurred to her to discontinue breeding her line of the species. It was an unspoken certainty that the more children she had, the more visions of Christ and the Blessed Mother she would enjoy.
To the right of Mrs. Ryan lived the Nicolson family. Tootsie Nicolson, a peroxide blonde with only two sons, had the distinction of being the most often quoted woman on the block. Her lament, I went through the valley of the shadow of death twice and I'll never do it again, was so often and so scornfully quoted by mother and her friends (their undertone of humor didn't fool me) that I understood at an early age the one thing that could brand a woman a fool: cowardice in the delivery room. It didn't matter that Tootsie was a professor; her skimpy family was as severe an indictment against her as her peroxided hair.
To the left of the Ryans lived the Doughertys—a family of five children. Babs Dougherty was no friend of Mrs. Ryan, being of the opinion that both Mrs. Ryan's filthy housekeeping and her religious fervor were equally subversive to the neighborhood children (meaning her own), and I knew she wasn't as shocked as she pretended to be the day she opened the freezer door.
She was called to their house by one of the Ryan children, as their mother had suffered a stroke. I think it was curiosity rather than a neighborly impulse to cook dinner that led her to open that door, and I never learned what she found there, but I still remember the look on her face and the sound of her voice as she looked down into the freezer and said, "My God, I don't know what she feeds those children!"
It wasn't long afterwards that the moving van pulled up at the Ryan house to the accompaniment of the voices at my mother's kitchen table, fellow-breeders all, lamenting the persecution of Mrs. Ryan by Mrs. Dougherty. "A saint, that's what she is, a saint!" my mother kept repeating. Mrs. Ryan, in the years to come, carted her brood from one small town to the next in upstate New York, and my mother paid visits to her as religious in their regularity as her visits to the parish church on Fridays to say the Stations of the Cross.
And then, one day, her husband dead and her children all either dead or gone away, save for one or two, Mrs. Ryan confounded Babs Dougherty by moving back to Watertown, to a street only two blocks away from her original house, though miles away in social prestige (the prestige in Mrs. Ryan's favor). She was clothed in the latest designer fashions and her new house was as elegant, as well kept, and as cluttered with expensive bric-a-brac as anything in Vogue Magazine. On top of this unlikely turnabout Mrs. Ryan made several trips each year to Europe, visited the Pope regularly, ran her dead husband's business, which meant supervising twenty younger men, and had a circle of international friends so soigné that Mrs. Dougherty moved away from the neighborhood altogether, unable to stand the evidence right under her nose, each day, of her own bad judgment and provincial existence.
However, despite the change in Mrs. Ryan's life style, her visions and mental collapses remained constant, further humiliating Mrs. Dougherty by proving that Mrs. Ryan's favor under the Lord would always be the same; and, that once she was chosen, neither slovenly housekeeping nor running with the jet set was likely to diminish it. We all knew that Mrs. Ryan's original call to saintliness was due to her never-empty womb.
It was with this background of steady, relentless reproduction, blessed by the bleeding heart of Jesus, that I confronted my own pregnancy.
Now, the fake Empress Josephine bedroom in our expensive East Hampton commune spinning around me, I was waiting for Frederick to make the decision about the baby. Instead, he looked at me closely, examined my face in detail, and told me that I reminded him of his sister, Minette. Minette was a year older than I was, making her thirty-one. I had always suspected that Frederick married me out of suppressed incestuous desires, since he was five years younger than me.
"Tell me the truth," I was asking him. "Are you in love with your sister?"
"You want to know the truth, dummy?"
"Zere is no truth, don't you know that?"
"Don't give me that Cartesian reasoning again," I snapped at him. "Otherwise, why bother to talk at all?"
"Right!" he laughed, "why bother to talk at all, you're finally getting the point!
I wormed the confession out of him, finally that indeed he had not only been in love with but had actually consummated his passion for his sister, many years before; however it was his younger sister, Tatania (who resembled me even more), and not, as I had supposed, his older sister, Minette. Instead of being shocked by this discovery I found that the idea excited me. I moved closer to him and put my hand between his legs.
The next morning we both threw up for hours. There was no question of making it to the hospital. Frederick called them and canceled the abortion.
My husband, Frederick Marat, is the last of a dying breed—the romantic Frenchman.
When I met him it was just as de rigueur for a Frenchman to have an "American Experience" as the contrary had been for the past fifty years or so. Most of his French friends, as well as the German, Gunter von Habsburg, who claims to have acquired the style in Vero Beach, Florida, affected cowboy boots, Stetson hats, bleached-out bluejeans, and Navajo jewelry. Not Frederick. He remained true to his heritage, dying though it was supposed to have been, and dressed only in silk shirts and scarves, cashmere sweaters and jackets, and Italian shoes. His literary heroes were Balzac, the Marquis de Sade, especially Philosophic dans le Boudoir ("You'll see, people will recognize him as the political genius he was, in fifty years' time"), and Antonin Artaud, who said, "All writing is pigshit and all writers are pigs."
His one concession to American culture went to films; he admired Andy Warhol. While his cowboy-booted contemporaries talked about Godard and Truffaut, Frederick sniffed, secure in the knowledge that he, unlike them, had picked up on the only true form of originality in America—films.
Unfortunately for him, falling in love with me ground all of his romantic ideas into powder. It was his predilection toward "experimental" American films that predisposed him to fall in love with me, for if I was anything, I was a product of my age. Even though I had been a dreamer as a child, spoon-fed by Mrs. Ryan with the heady stuff of mysticism, I learned soon after leaving home to scoff at romanticism and embrace practicality.
I knew that when I interrupted Frederick's lovemaking with a statement not at all in keeping with his romantic mood, he felt betrayed and wondered what had ever possessed him to fall in love with me. I hated myself for those mundane interruptions, dictated really, by self-consciousness and not as I pretended then, by modern American sophistication. Yet even then I knew that those interruptions weren't endemic to my nature but, rather, that they were some obsession I had to break a mood, to throw a pall of "reality" over everything, as though to force Frederick into proving that he loved me despite the middleclass stamp on my soul.
I thought that if I showed him all of my worst traits, bit by bit, then one day I would have shown them all, would be free of them, and I could allow myself to be the romantic partner in love that I felt was my real self.
If one substitutes the word "raunchy" for "mundane" and eliminates the word "self-consciousness," Marie-Claude, the troublesome "fiancée" (as they say in Paris) of Gunter von Habsburg, possesses a lot of the same traits I have just described. Surprising in a Parisian woman, she has a real barnyard humor, loves to talk to her lovers about the sexual peculiarities of her former lovers, and never makes any attempts at "femininity" and mystery beyond her make-up, perfume, and wardrobe. Her passive presentation is fashionable, elegant, modest, and malleable—the perfect nineteenth-century drawing-room decoration; actively, however, she's like something out of a William Burroughs novel.
I have never seen Marie-Claude happier than she was the morning she woke me up to tell me that both Gunter and his cameraman had made love to her the night before (simultaneously) in the fake Napoleon Bonaparte bedroom. "Comme nous avons déchiré!" she laughed. "Tous les deux etaient formidable!"
"Dr. Schwartz says that if you don't have the baby now, at thirty, you might as well forget it. You'll always find a reason why you shouldn't do it. There'll always be an assignment, or not enough money, or something that's unfinished."
Frederick had just come from Dr. Schwartz's, where he had gone to have his cock checked out. It was burning because he had made love to a whore two days before.
I agreed that it was about time I had a baby if I was going to have one at all. Then I went into the rose bushes and vomited again. The trouble with the house Gunter was renting was that every time I leaned down to throw up in the gardens, my olfactory organs, sensitized by pregnancy, could smell the DDT. Nobody would believe me that there was all that DDT around. They said it was my imagination. I recognize DDT. It smells like oil and a chemical at the same time.
Marijuana drove me nuts too. The smell. I stayed in my bedroom while Frederick and his friends got stoned all night. I was hating him more and more.
Three and a half months pregnant. I really hate my husband now. I hate the way he eats, the way he brushes his teeth, the way he dries his hair (rubbing his scalp with his hands and shaking his head in front of the mirror), and the way he speaks French. What especially irritates me is the way he keeps saying, "Tu vois?"
Excerpted from The Baby by Viva. Copyright © 1975 Viva Auder. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPART ONE THE BABY,
Chapter I Thim and Thur One,
Chapter II The Greatest Reward Life Holds,
Chapter III The Moment of Triumph,
Chapter IV "The First One Is Always the Hardest",
Chapter V Incest Is Best,
Chapter VI The Servant Problem,
Chapter VII European Style,
Chapter VIII The Happiness of the Community,
PART TWO THE WOMEN,
Chapter IX If You Can Get Through the First Year, You're Okay,
Chapter X "California Dreamin'",
Chapter XI The Order of the Heavenly Host,
Chapter XII Sisters Under the Skin,
Chapter XIII Two Women Under One Roof,
Chapter XIV Weaning I,
Chapter XV ADC,
Chapter XVI A Female Chauvinist Idea,
PART THREE THE FAMILY,
Chapter XVII As Fugitive, Alas, as the Years,
Chapter XVIII People Who Take Separate Planes,
Chapter XIX Nursery School,
Chapter XX Weaning II,
Chapter XXI The Womens Have a Much Better Life Than the Mens,
Chapter XXII Her Rival Introduced,
Chapter XXIII Weaning III,
Chapter XXIV Just Look at Her Mother,
Chapter XXV Her Rival Revisited,
Chapter XXVI "Not Mutilation but Cultivation",
Chapter XXVII "A Woman's Work ...",
Chapter XXVIII The Northern Lights,
Chapter XXIX The Violence Called Love,
Chapter XXX For the Sake of the Child,
About the Author,